Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The State of the President Part 2: Reality Bites

Change and hope. Hope and change. These are the reasons America elected Pres. Obama. The aughts constituted America's worst decade for quite some time. There was 9/11, which exasperated an already ailing economy, two wars, one of which was sold to us on false pretenses, the seeming breakdown of the rule of law amongst Washington insiders, cynicism, hyper-partisanship, torture, the bursting of the housing bubble which lead to the worst economy since the Great Depression, bank and auto industry bailouts, global warming, and a complete loss of trust in our government.

This on the heels of the 90s which saw record growth in the economy and no wars. Peace and Prosperity. That's all we want. But in a post-9/11 world it was beginning to seem as though that was no longer possible.

So Pres. Obama came along with ideas that made us have some hope again. He said we'd end that awful war in Iraq. We'd close that symbol of American arrogance and torture, Guantanamo Bay. We'd ensure that every American, not just the wealthy, had access to humane health care. We'd invest in green jobs and renewable energy, fighting the dual threats of global warming and a weak economy. We'd reward people that volunteer. We'd raise the bar for our teachers and schools. We'd make government more efficient by reviewing the individual agencies and programs. We would no longer be beholden to special interests and lobbyists. We'd do it all as a united America, not red and blue, Republican and Democrat. Oh, and he'd be the our first black president, showing the world, and ourselves, that America had finally put to rest our shameful history of race relations. Yes, he sold change and hope.

And now, reality.

The reality is that, like every politician that ever campaigned in the history of America, he simply could never fulfill all that promise, and especially after only one year. But America was so worn down after the aughts and Barack Obama was such a new, interesting, charismatic political force, that we invested a little too much of our hope in him. We expected a little too much change too fast. This Modern World sums up pretty well how we became enamored with our ideal of Pres. Obama.

All this is not to say that America was hoodwinked or believed naively in some sort of American Savior. There is good reason he won the election: he was the best choice. And he has made changes that we absolutely needed. He's closing Guantanamo (albeit slower than we'd like). He's withdrawing from Iraq (albeit with an ugly escalation in Afghanistan). He's committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (albeit with major concessions to industry). He's committed to reforming health care (albeit with major concessions to industry).

Things are changing for the better, but without the stark break from the past we were expecting. If we had come into the Obama administration with more tempered expectations I suspect we'd be pretty pleased with what we saw, and I suspect that after four years we'll look back and see more progress than we realized while in the middle of it. But there is no denying that reality is a lot less appealing than the ideal.

And the most stark reality is that America is in a hyper-partisan mood right now. Conservatives impeached Pres. Clinton, liberals went after Pres. Bush hard, and now conservatives are going after Pres. Obama hard. We are willing to put party before country. There was never any dispute, for instance, that the health care system is broken and shameful, but no matter what was proposed conservatives were going to oppose it. It is hard to blame that strategy from a political perspective because it seems to be working pretty well. But that's not to say that it is good for America.

In this party before country atmosphere the group that has gained the most is lobbyists. They use the partisanship to exploit their relationships with the Washington insiders and thus create gridlock. The lobbyists want nothing more than status quo. As long as the system stays the same, a system where bankers and insurance companies can ruin peoples' lives without consequence, the lobbyists have won. So even in a world where Pres. Obama was actually disposed to fight hard for every ideal he embodies, the system is set up for him to fail.

Can he find a second wind and change the system? Doubtful. Is that our ideal of him? It is. Hope and change? Prospects diminishing. But let's see what he's got in store for 2010 before making any final judgments.


Daniel H said...

I expected a fresh view in Washington, and a change of policy for the better, something I feel we've had. By and large, I am very pleased with everything that President Obama has tried and is trying to do, and I figure that we'll see just how many of his 500+ campaign promises he'll actually keep.

As for the American Savior, I think that there is a sizeable percentage of the electorate that expected instant amelioration, and are sadly mistaken.

Clark Goble said...

One thing that constantly interests me is that people don't focus on the system itself. The founders intentionally put tons of checks and balances in our government such that no one really has that much power. Now some (the Ezra Kleins for instance) hate this and rail against the system. I think it useful since it means change won't happen until the people themselves change.

But the interesting point is that activists don't think about that. Their focus is in electing people where they put this huge faith in change when there is no way change could happen because they didn't convince enough other Americans at a policy level. It's sort of like after an election people want the President to be a dictator or something. (Or at least more like a parlementary system with a significant majority)

How much of this is just plain ignorance of civics I can't say. But it amuses me how often it happens. In a sense Obama brought this on himself by campaigning so much on the idea he could create change he had zero power to do.

Daniel H said...

Interesting point, Clark. And I will agree with you that the checks and balances are great, and I'm glad we have them.

Yet, even in our system, we can see that checks and balances are failing at some levels, especially here in Utah - our Congress seems to be no better than some of the Reconstruction era carpetbagger congresses of the South - a good-ol' boys club that has us in a stranglehold.

Joseph said...

Honestly, beyond the rhetoric of each, I don't see any real difference between Obama and Bush. Both are awful. Both like big government. Both like war. Both are in the pockets of Wall Street. Both regularly find ways to bypass our government's checks and balances. Both ignore the constitution. Both have resulted in less personal liberty for an individual than when they started their presidency. etc. etc. etc.

Unfortunately, the US population fails to see this because they are stuck in the left vs. right mind-set. They choose a team, Republican or Dems. Choose a news-station, FOX or MSNBC. Put on their team colors, red or blue. Then convince themselves that as long as the president is on their team, its OK if he takes a giant dump on the constitution and our personal freedom, because he's on "our team" and we trust him, cus he goes to church like we do...or he cares about the environment like we do...or basically caters his rhetoric to penetrate our emotional weak spots.

Our mindlessness allowed Bush to get away with preemptive wars and the patriot act; our mindlessness let the media convince us that a Wall Street Funded and owned Obama was a non-establishment, grassroots born leader who was in touch with the average citizens hope for Change; The same mindlessness has conservatives drooling over the idea of Palin running for president in 2012 even though they have know idea what real policies she represents...they just know she sounds like them, goes to church like them, and hunts like them.

All these guys work for the same group. Wall Street and their international counterparts.

Jacob S. said...

Clark, I think there is a big difference between checks and balances as created by the Constitution and stalemates as created by lobbyists. So the voters made their voice heard by voting a Democratic president, Senate, and House, but still get no results because of the extra-Constitutional system that has been set up in Washington. Voters had good reason to think that thinks could change, but they are disappointed again.

Iliana said...

Pres. Obama is and has always been grasping at straws. Since many banks have paid back the TARP money, he now has to go find other ways to control them that in short will completly alter the capabilities of small business and change our economy forever if he has anything to do with it. Why are the banks, the institutions that enable people to grow business and prosper individuals, the scapegoat for all that has happened to our country in the past few years? Never mind, I don't want your tart response with biased info. It just seems crazy to me and to think it won't drastically change your life too in a negative way is wishful thinking.

Joseph said...


The problem with banks goes back a lot further than a few years ago.

You might care to watch this:

Its a bit dry, and the production is pretty dated, but it covers info about the US and its banks that we all should be aware of in my humble opinion. Oh and its quite long, but be patient and you'll learn a lot of good history :)

You might decide its "biased info", but all individual interpretations of history are, that's why its important to examine multiple viewpoints, even one's that oppose your own.